Free Trial Of Anon! Good For Two Weeks Before Purchase Is Required!

As it happened, the very next day, Applejack's young cousin showed up at Sweet Apple Acres, which nicely prevented her from being able to go attend Anon's hearing. All the rest of them were going to be there, which probably shouldn't have filled me with as much glee as it did, but there is nothing more likely to put a big smile on my face than when I get to do things directly under my enemies' muzzles and have them be none the wiser. I attended as Twister, who after all is a unicorn of sufficient wealth and sophistication that he has two marefriends who work at the Palace. My plan had been to wear my best orange zoot suit, restyled for a pony shape of course, but Trixie convinced me that wearing bright orange to a venue where most stallions wear somber, boring colors would make it significantly harder for her to ensure that no one noticed me.

"But I want to be noticeable," I argued. "Perhaps you're content to languish in dull obscurity, but I'm Discord! I'm the life of the party! Everypony should be looking at me!"

She sighed. "As much as Trixie would enjoy seeing such stupidity earn its rightful reward... I will never be able to prove to Twilight who the better unicorn is by freeing her from Anon if Anon kills you, you idiot. Nopony should be looking at you, because you're not Discord, you're Twister, an obscure weather-working unicorn from Las Pegasus. Remember?"

"Well, is there any rule that says that Twister can't be memorable?"

"Yes, the rule of misdirection. You don't want to draw any attention to yourself while you're trying to lie and pretend to be ordinary, because you're honestly terrible at pretending to be ordinary, so the less anypony pays attention to you to notice how terrible you are at it, the better."

"I can pretend to be ordinary if I want to! I just don't want to."

"I can work at a rock farm if I have to, but I don't want to and I don't pretend I'm any good at it," Trixie retorted. "Trixie is too intelligent, sophisticated and powerful to have any talent at such a mundane and boring task. And you are much too freakish to have any real ability to pretend to be normal."

"Why, thank you. That's the sweetest thing you've ever said to me, Trixie," I said, wiping the tears from my eyes.

So Twister went to Anon's hearing dressed in, ugh, a dark brown suit. At least it didn't blend in with his gray coat – Twister's got a very limited subset of my glorious palette, as he's only gray and black. Trixie had tried to convince me I should wear a gray or black suit so it would match my coat or mane, but honestly, how can anyone stand being so colorless? I accepted dull brown as a compromise, but there are some limits to which I won't sink.

Trixie and I got into the Palace with ease. Trixie can pull off haughty Canterlot upper class unicorn with very little trouble – instead of being the Great and Powerful Trixie, or Trixie Lulamoon, she was Beatrix Moonstar. Canterlot fancy dresses frequently cover mares' cutie marks, and Trixie has, as nearly as I can tell, as many alternate identities as I do, and paperwork for all of them. (Ugh. I made Trixie forge Twister's papers. There are some things no self-respecting Spirit of Chaos should ever have to do.) A little bit of magical "these papers are obviously correct and perfect" projected through the Element of Deception, and any slight oversights were overlooked.

The first actual hurdle came when I decided I needed to talk to Blueblood about what had been going on behind the scenes. I hadn't seen Ember and Starflame's negotiation with Luna, since I was too busy watching the hilarity that was Pinkie Pie and Rarity feuding over Anon, and I wanted all the juicy details. Had Luna resisted? Thrown a temper tantrum complete with thee's and thou's and the Royal Canterlot Voice? Been coldly practical? Inquiring draconequui want to know!

But I overlooked a small problem. Both Blueblood and Trixie are Bearers of Disharmony. And while I didn't precisely tell Trixie to follow me, I didn't tell her to stay behind, either.

Court hadn't started yet and important ponies were milling about, chatting. I could see the Bearers, minus Applejack, looking nervous and miserable and in Pinkie's case bawling hysterically in Rarity's embrace saying it was all her fault. Which was of course ridiculous – Pinkie's antics may have humiliated Anon, but they had nothing to do with him being here, facing a hearing regarding his involvement in the death of a dragon. I pulled Blueblood aside to talk to him, phasing myself, him and Trixie slightly out of reality so no one could overhear the conversation. Immediately, he raised an eyebrow and sneered at Trixie. "Is this... pony... with you?" he asked, managing to make the word "pony" sound like some sort of dire epithet.

Trixie glared at him. "Well, if it isn't Prince Snobulous," she said. "I thought I heard your whiny voice."

Blueblood pretended to ignore her. "Discord, surely you could do better than a talentless, pathetic, lowborn unicorn like this one. Why is she even here?"

I tried to keep a stern expression on, but failed. I couldn't stop grinning. I just really like disharmony, okay? "Do you two know each other?" I asked.

"Unfortunately," they both said at the same time, with identical expressions of distaste on their faces. I chortled.

"I see you do! And so well that you finish each other's sentences, how delightful! Congratulations to the both of you!"

This time they looked at me with identical expressions of combined distaste and disbelief. Blueblood said, "Surely, you are not suggesting what it sounds as if you are suggesting?"

Trixie was blunter. "If you want to congratulate Trixie for surviving several years of school with this loser, you can say it like you mean it and make him go away."

"Loser? Says the traveling magician who lives in a wagon?"

"Better to live in a wagon and roam the land practicing my talent than to not have one at all!" Trixie sneered. "Or, I'm sorry, have you actually done any exploring lately? Of anything, aside from the under-tails of court-following floozies?"

"Some of us have responsibilities to the realm," Blueblood said haughtily, "and can't just go wandering off on a selfish whim. Others, apparently, won't be missed anywhere if they wander away."

"This is so exciting!" I bubbled gleefully. "Old school friends, reunited at last!"

"We are not friends!" Trixie snapped.

"No prince would stoop to befriending such a base and lowly pony," Blueblood sneered. (He sneered a lot during this incident. In fact you can pretty much imagine that any time I'm not describing an expression that isn't sneering, he was sneering.) "In fact, I'd call her a peasant, except that a peasant actually has value to society, producing food for their betters to eat. This one is even less use to the world than a peasant."

That, I took exception to – both because nobles are actually completely useless for the most part, far more so than farmers and miners and other "peasants", and because it was a poor reflection on me if my chosen Element Bearer was really as useless as all that. "Now, now, Bluey. Trixie is valuable to our cause of defeating Anon, just as you are."

"What possible use is he?" Trixie snapped. "Trixie has a wide repertoire of actual spells and a fair degree of magecraft! What have you done, aside from sit around in a palace being pampered your whole life? At least I entertain ponies!"

"Given that you were expelled from Princess Celestia's school, I find your claim to have studied magecraft doubtful in the extreme," Blueblood said snootily. (Yes, he was still sneering. But now he was sneering snootily.)

Trixie sneered right back. "Like a good mage even needs to go to a school! Everything Trixie needed to know to become the Great and Powerful unicorn she is today, she taught herself, without being spoonfed by hidebound Canterlot noble-flank-kissers!"

"Are you insulting Her Highness, my aunt, the light of the world? Every unicorn who teaches at Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns was hoof-selected by Princess Celestia herself!"

"Yes, well, maybe she ought to ask her sister to do some of the hiring, because I don't think she can tell the difference between a good mage and a good flank-kisser anymore! No matter how wise and powerful a Princess may be, if she's surrounded all the time by useless parasites who do nothing but sit around get fat on the taxes from hard-working ponies, she's going to lose her perspective!"

"You are calling me a parasite? Me! Prince Blueblood, direct heir to the ancient throne of Unicornia, nephew of Princess Celestia herself?"

"Oh, come off it, she's not married and her sister's been on the moon for a thousand years, so you're not either young enough or old enough to be Princess Luna's son. Or smart enough, honestly. So you can't really be her nephew."

Blueblood lowered his head and hoofed at the ground, snorting. "Apologize to me at once, or I will demand satisfaction in the dueling arena!"

"Trixie only lowers herself to duel with unicorns she respects." Which was sort of news to me, though I suppose it shouldn't have been – she wouldn't have been so obsessed with proving herself against Twilight Sparkle if she didn't respect Sparkly-poo at least just a bit.

A trumpet started up, snapping me out of my reverie of delight in watching the two of them go at each other, and a crier shouted. "Hear ye, hear ye! Lady mares and gentlestallions, make way for Her Highness Princess Celestia!"

"Oh, fudge," I muttered. I had been so wrapped up in watching Blueblood and Trixie go at each other that I hadn't had time to ask any of the questions I wanted to ask. And now the two of them were glaring at each other, bristling. Even if they hadn't had some sort of personal history of annoying each other, the fact that they were both Disharmony Bearers meant that it was very unlikely I'd be able to get them to shut up, stop feuding with each other, and pay attention to the court proceedings we were all here to see.

"And speaking of unicorns you respect!" I interjected. "You know what would be really very helpful right now, would be if Twilight wasn't here to speak on Anon's behalf!" Normally Anon's power didn't let Twilight display much of her innate intelligence, but I had no doubt that with Anon's life and freedom on the line, his power would allow her to pull out all the stops to find some obscure law or precedent to save him. "And only one of her friends is in Ponyville right now, so this would be the perfect moment to go take over Ponyville and demand she come duel you!"

"Duel? Twilight Sparkle?" Blueblood laughed nastily. "As if you'd last five minutes against her! Sparkle may not be nobility, but her House is an ancient one and well-regarded in Canterlot."

Trixie scowled at him. "And that is why it'll be all the sweeter when she is forced to recognize that Trixie is the more talented unicorn," she snapped. She turned to me. "When you asked me to come here, you wanted my assistance in disguising you. I hope you're not planning on relying on this useless bundle of paper pedigrees to keep you hidden in Trixie's absence!"

"I can manage on my own if I must," I said. "Getting Twilight out of here is far more important, and taking her on while Anon can't come to her aid will ensure a fair fight, mana a mana." I've never quite understood where that expression comes from. Shouldn't it be mana vs mana, or mana on mana? For that matter, what's wrong with "magic vs. magic?" Using the term mana here seems somewhat pretentious. But no, for some reason it's mana a mana. It might be Esponyol; I'm not an expert speaker of every Neighropan language.

"Well. This does seem like an auspicious time for Trixie's light to shine." She posed dramatically. "Teleport me to Ponyville."

"What's wrong with taking the train?"

Snout in the air, Trixie said grandly, "The conqueror of Ponyville, bearer of Disharmony and direct agent of the Spirit of Chaos, should not be reduced to taking a train. I'll provide the appropriate effects for my own dramatic entrance, but you teleport me into the town square."

"Do you take orders from this peon, Discord?"

I looked at Blueblood. "I take suggestions from any one of my minions who has a good idea, and since this sounds like a good idea, I'm going to take the suggestion. Do you have a problem with that?" With my tone of voice I suggested that he'd better not. Wisely he backed off.

I snapped a talon and teleported Trixie, resisting the urge to play some sort of practical joke like making her hat neon pink or excessively floppy or bigger than her head; she was right. She would look better and more dangerous, and thus more likely pull Twilight's attention away from Anon's situation, if she made a dramatic entrance. I did include a small earring, consisting of a miniaturized version of one of my ears, glued to a ring, on her hat, but that was mainly so I could hear what was going on. I've got plenty of Panauricon listening ears in Ponyville, but having one directly attached to Trixie's hat would make sure I wouldn't miss any of the action.

As soon as she was gone, Blueblood deflated slightly. "I apologize if my conduct toward that... pony... was unseemly, but I have no idea why you've taken her for an ally," he said. "Though I never had the misfortune of being in the same class as her, due to my status as a more advanced student—"

"You mean, that you were older than her."

"Yes, a more advanced student, that's what I said."

"Fortunately for you, you don't actually need to know why I've taken her as an ally," I said. "Just that I have. So I expect you to behave yourself." I couldn't control a giggle. "Or, entertain me by sniping at her for an hour or two the next time you see her. That was delightfully fun. But I don't need to hear your opinions about her when she's not here. If you haven't got her retorts to bounce off of, you just sound boorish and worse, boring."

Blueblood breathed deeply. "Someday, draconequus. Someday this human cretin will be defeated and sent home in defeat, his nonexistent tail between his legs, and when that day comes and Equestria no longer needs you, there will be a reckoning."

"Mm." I munched on a piece of bluegrass with a straw hat on my head. "Sure thing, pardner. I reckon ninnies like you'll get a good long taste of sweet, sultry Chaos."

Blueblood looked horrified. "Stop that right now! Ponies will see you!"

Oh, yeah, right. I was Twister and shouldn't be manufacturing hats and bluegrass out of nothing. I pouted and made my props disappear. "Fine, fine." Ponies all appeared to be filing into their seats. "Let's go get a good seat, shall we?"

The proceedings weren't open to the public; most ponies were simply left out of the trial chambers, including many nobles. Blueblood's rank as a Prince, however, got him in, along with a companion of his choice. "You should have impersonated a mare," he groused. "If anyone asks why I brought you to court—"

"What, I can't be your newest coltfriend?" I batted my eyelashes.

Blueblood scowled. "Keep your voice down. Even I can't necessarily weather such accusations with my reputation intact."

I opened my mouth, and closed it again, remembering one of the other distasteful pieces of Anon's transformations of our world. "It's possible you don't realize this, but that's Anon's doing too," I said quietly.

"What is? Your crude, pathetic attempts at humor?"

"The fact that your reputation would be at all damaged if ponies knew your gate swings both ways," I said.

"I—what! How dare you! I never-!"

"Blueblood." I zippered his mouth shut. Unicorns can do that spell too, so I wasn't worried about giving myself away. "I've seen your entire life, remember? I know everything, and I'm not in the slightest taken aback or bothered by any of it. What I'm trying to tell you is that before Anon came along you didn't have to hide it. You were just as free to openly take paramours among pointers as among setters."

He managed to undo the zipper. "You are the crudest, most uncouth—"

"Shut up and remember why we're allies, and what you're fighting for. He didn't just brainwash you into an Eevil Villain twirling your mustache at the thought of overthrowing your aunts. He took from you and every other stallion in Equestria the freedom to love, or at least to get frisky with, anyone at all you might want, of whatever gender or species. The disgust with xenophilia and homosexuality? That's him. Equestria wasn't like that before."

"But I remember..." He trailed off, presumably realizing that he didn't remember. He remembered remembering, I'm sure, but when I purged him of his false memories, the actual implanted memories of a life in the closet had gone when the real memories of his friendship with Shining Armor and Daring Do had come back.

"Do you now?"

"It hardly matters," he said, sighing. "Even if I remember the world as it truly was, no other pony does. The damage to my reputation would still be severe regardless of what I remember."

"Well, then I'm a friend from your club. It's just as well, you're far too symmetrical to be my type." I grinned at him. "I like ponies who have ridiculous manes all over one side of their face and not the other. Like your dear auntie."

"That's disgusting."

I made an exaggerated expression of shock. "You think your aunt is disgusting? How very strange! Most unicorns think she's easily the most beautiful pony in Equestria!"

"I mean, that a creature like you would dare to find her attractive."

I chortled. Oh, the stories I could tell him. But then we got to our seats and the herald tooted the horn again for Celestia's imminent arrival, so I didn't get a chance. Pity, I love watching white ponies turning spluttering-lobster red.

Anon was up in the front. He wasn't wearing handcuffs. Usually, an accused criminal brought before the crown would be wearing hoofcuffs, and a magic suppressing horn ring if a unicorn, or wing binders if a pegasus. No doubt Anon had given his word of honor or something stupid like that, though. Twilight was sitting next to him, looking extremely nervous, and the rest of them were in the front row.

Celestia and Luna both filed in, Luna looking remarkably put together for a pony who I knew for a fact couldn't have gotten any sleep last night. Alicorns are odd creatures; I knew from attempting to spy on Celestia's dreams that there had been years when she had slept at most three hours a night, and hadn't slept at all for most of them, because she had struggled with the moon. Nightmare Moon had been bound into the moon and unable to escape it or exert her magic outside of it, but she had been able to play havoc with Celestia's control for the first hundred years or so, until either she got sick of it or Celestia got good enough at moon-slinging that Spooky Scary Moona couldn't stop her. I don't sleep through the night, but I couldn't go for months without sleep... not without turning the world to cheese, donuts and skateboards, anyway. When I get very, very tired, not like exhausted from overexertion but like a week without sleeping, chaos just starts doing whatever it wants with only minimal consultation with me, and I can't stop it. So I'm slightly impressed at the ability alicorns seem to have to declare sleep optional, or at least older alicorns – I have no idea what happens if Cadance doesn't get any sleep, but considering that an alicorn in her first pony lifetime is still fertile, that magical sleep doesn't count against a pony's age, and how much she and her boytoy are going at it, I imagine there will be a bouncing baby royal pain soon enough, and then I guess we'll find out!

"We are gathered here today because a hero of the realm faces some very serious charges, brought by these emissaries from the Dragon Lands," Celestia said. She gestured with a hoof at Ember, who was seated on the other side of the front row. "This is Princess Ember, daughter of the Dragon Lord Torch, here as an ambassador from the Dragon Lands, and with her is her assistant Starflame." This time Celestia gestured up with a wing and looked up at the same time. All of the ponies in the room did as well, to see a full-grown young-adult dragon perched on a platform that shouldn't have been able to stay up there with her weight, but Celestia had cast the same spell on it that the engineers who built Canterlot had cast all over the part of the city that hangs over the mountainside. Not that any of the ponies in the room would have known that, aside from the alicorns and maybe Twilight, but I could easily tell.

Whether it was because of the precarious look of the dragon's perch, or simply the presence of a huge (to ponies, at least; compared to Ember's father she was a reed next to an oak) dragon, ponies did not react well. There was much screaming and attempting to leap out of their seats. Luna decided to solve the problem by deafening the audience. "SILENCE IN THE COURT! SIT, OR FACE CONTEMPT!" Fortunately for me I know what it means when Luna draws a deep breath before opening her mouth, so I had quickly conjured myself a pair of earplugs, but the ponies in the audience were reeling. Except for Blueblood, who obviously knew Luna well enough to have cast a silencing charm on himself. Clever.

As the ponies recovered from the ringing in their ears, Celestia said, in a slightly louder than normal tone of voice, "My little ponies, there is no reason to be concerned. Starflame is here to support Ember in her mission to ensure that justice is done, not to attack ponies."

A pony both braver and stupider than average called out, "How do we know it isn't lying to you, Princess? Maybe they are here to eat ponies and they're just pretending!"

Celestia smiled that warm, friendly, maternal smile of hers. "I think the dragons are well aware of the fact that any dragon who eats a pony will die by my horn," she said pleasantly, "so I am quite sure that Starflame means no threat to any of us."

Now that was the Celestia I remember. Friendly, smiling and well aware that she's deadly enough to afford to be friendly and smiling. Although I've rarely known Celestia to be quite so blunt about how deadly she is, at least in front of her subjects.

"I have no interest in eating ponies," Starflame said from her perch. "Princess Celestia has been very hospitable, and offered me delicious gems. Any dragon would prefer gems to pony meat."

This was perhaps not the most politic thing she could have said. A couple of the more tightly corseted noblemares fainted.

Ember cleared her throat. "The issue at stake here is serious," she said. "You ponies have a dragonslayer serving your nation. If anyone should be afraid, it shouldn't be ponies."

"I didn't even know she was intelligent!" Anon said. "I was just trying to protect mares who'd been enslaved!"

Celestia cleared her throat. "I'd prefer to follow protocol and introduce the charges formally, rather than just randomly shouting them out, if you don't mind."

Ember actually blushed. "Sorry."

"Read the charges into the court record, if you please," Celestia said, gesturing at some unicorn flunky with a scroll.

"If it please your Highness," the flunky with the scroll said. "The charge placed against Anon, the Bearer of the Element of Protection, is of sapicide – the murder of a sapient being, in this case, a dragon."

"A dragonet," Ember said. "A dragon child."

"Yes." The flunky cleared her throat. "The murder of a dragon child. Princess Luna herself witnessed the death of this dragon. This hearing is to assess, not whether Anon was responsible for the dragon's death, but whether his actions were sufficiently justified by the circumstances to warrant a royal pardon, or if he will be extradited to the Dragon Lands to face trial there."

"Farcical," Starflame said from up above. "We saw her body. Princess Luna admits he killed her. There is no possible justification for murdering a child. Just hand him over to us and be done with it."

"Does she not mean 'hoof'?" Blueblood whispered to me.

I waved my own hoof before remembering that it was a hoof, and therefore wasn't really a good demonstration of the principle that dragons have hands. "She's a dragon. Their forepaws are hands. Like Anon has, but with much stabbier claws."

Luna actually growled. "Princess Ember, please tell your assistant to show the respect this court deserves."

"Luna. No need," Celestia said calmly. Oh, so they were playing Good Princess, Bad Princess? I'd always loved watching them play that game. "Starflame is certainly aware of the discussion we had prior to declaring the need for this hearing, regarding the extenuating circumstances surrounding the dragon's death. We will not simply turn over a hero of the realm, who was acting in good faith to protect helpless mares and reindeer cows, to dragons to mete out their idea of justice. There will be a fair discussion of Anon's situation and the reasons he made the decisions he did before any judgement shall be made."

At that point, Applejack entered the court diffidently, her hat pressed against her chest by one hoof. She was lathered with sweat to the point where it dripped off her, and her orange coat had turned almost as red as her brother's from obvious exertion. She whispered something to one of the guards posted at the door.

Celestia, managing somehow to not convey the "Oh for heavens' sake what now?" I was sure she was thinking, turned toward the guard. "Yes? Is there a matter that requires our attention?"

Applejack managed to walk in, somehow, despite keeping one forehoof on her hat so she could keep it respectfully pressed to her chest. "Your Highness, I just need to have a word with Twilight? There's some bad stuff happening in Ponyville."

"Ponyville?" Twilight leapt to her hooves. "What's happening?"

Anon reached toward his Element, which for some stupid reason they hadn't removed from him despite it being a powerful magical weapon. "Princess Celestia! I respect this court and everything but if there's something happening in Ponyville—"

"Sit. Down." Celestia didn't shout, but she didn't need to. "Twilight, take your friends, aside from Anon, to Ponyville and contain whatever this threat may be, then return as quickly as you can. Anon, I do apologize, but I cannot offer such an insult to our esteemed dragon guests as to simply let you go. If Twilight reports that you're needed... we'll address that issue if and when it arises."

I smirked. If Celestia had let Anon go to deal with Trixie (I was fairly certain the problem Applejack wanted to report was Trixie, and also, that she'd plainly galloped all the way to Canterlot because she wouldn't have had time to have taken a train since I teleported Trixie to Ponyville), the dragons would have been enraged, and there would have been chaos, right here and now in this court. Anon's "I am the hero" field had either not warped Celestia so badly that she couldn't see that, or it wanted Anon to face a nice dramatic trial to give him a threat to overcome. I hadn't thought of this earlier, but one thing I've noticed about badly written fiction is how often the noble hero, beloved by all, is suddenly and for no particularly good reason unfairly set upon by the same ponies she has sacrificed so much to save, forcing her to prove herself against horrendous injustice. It always ends up working out for the best and the hero is generally lavished with groveling apologies afterward, so I had no illusions that this was really going to result in Anon taking a vacation in the Dragon Lands and getting an extra toasty tan. (Tanning is a thing that human skin does when it's exposed to sunlight; it gets darker. Pale humans are obsessed with getting them, despite the fact that for some reason they look down on humans who are born with the darker skin colors. Oh, you have no idea how much I hate having to explain my jokes!) But even though it wasn't likely to end in his destruction, this trial would definitely end up being a distraction to Anon. Kind of sad that with all my power, that was the best I could manage against him, but it was going better than anything else I'd tried up to that point.

All right, Dear Readers, at this point I need to confess something.

I am really really bad at sitting still and paying attention.

Yes, yes, I know this comes as a horrible shock to all of you. "The Lord of Chaos can't pay attention to boring, orderly proceedings! Gasp! Who would have thought?" But it's true. A sad, sad disability that I haven't been able to overcome in two millennia, mainly because I haven't really tried, and don't see the point to trying, generally speaking. But it does mean that in this case, I can't tell you every minute detail of the court proceedings, because oh sweet chaos was it ever boring. You'd think that a story involving the murder of a child, sex slavery, and blood and gore aplenty would be riveting, but somehow these ponies (and the two dragons) managed to turn the whole thing into a horrible snorefest.

So let me summarize, based on what Blueblood told me, because he is a fundamentally boring individual and thus was able to pay attention. The dragons described the condition of Faith's body, the nature of greed growth, and demanded that Luna tell the court about the murder under magical compulsion to tell the truth. Luna threw a fit that her word as a princess and the former Element of Loyalty would not be accepted as good enough (I did pay attention during this part, because it was hilarious) and Starflame asked politely if some other pony had been Nightmare Moon, at which point Celestia ruled that everyone giving any testimony would have to do so under magical compulsion to tell the truth, and made the dragons give all of their testimony all over again under truth-telling spell before Luna spoke.

The thing about an honesty spell is that it compels you not to lie, not to leave things out or choose your words carefully. Luna's testimony was accurate as far as it went, but she emphasized Faith's monstrous size, lack of speech during any portion of the combat that she or Anon saw, and the fact that she appeared to be freely aiding the despicable slaver Dainn. She also waxed eloquent about the terrible condition the slaves were in when she and Anon and her troops arrived, the degradation they were forced to suffer, and went onto a lengthy diatribe about how the caribou should have been crushed centuries ago, with a very, very strongly implied dig at her sister about why Celestia hadn't militarily intervened in a magically powerful culture living on territory that ponies, including alicorns, would be severely disadvantaged in, and risk the future of Equestria and the security of the sun itself on an expedition to protect a tiny hoofful of ponies and a bunch of females from other sovereign nations that themselves weren't doing anything to go rescue them.

And this is what I mean by the general worthlessness of truth spells. Because Luna doesn't think about realpolitik and things like why it might be a bad idea to charge recklessly into battle against a foe that's actually more powerful in the territory they're fighting in, she was free to make it sound like her sister was callously ignoring the horrible depravity of the caribou and their abuses of ponies and others, rather than making a hard and painful choice because of the absence of a handsome and powerful Chaos avatar who can directly see magical channels and break them to help her, due to her horrendous lack of foresight in having turned such a valuable potential ally to stone. No, I'm not bitter.

Then Luna started in on the wild speculation. "We would be remiss not to inform the court that during the battle, Discord was present," she said, "and we believe he may have had something to do with the dragon child's state of voracious mindlessness. He spoke to us as if she was a minion he was trying to protect. It is our belief that, while Discord did assist our side in the battle and was in the end the one who delivered the death blow to Dainn, he did so largely for the purpose of creating chaos, and secondarily for the purpose of retrieving a powerful artifact of disharmony. In our opinion, he drove the dragon child mad, causing her greed growth and her inability to tell her enslavers from her rescuers any longer." Ember and Starflame looked at each other as if they were seriously considering this.

Rage welled up within me, and I was about to point out how biased and ridiculous this opinion was, when Blueblood stomped on my hoof. I turned and glared at him. "What was that for?" I whispered angrily.

"Control yourself," he whisper-snapped. "Regardless of what slander they say about you, if you show yourself it will prove your involvement in this trial, and Anon will walk free while they continue to vilify you."

I took a deep breath. He was right. I didn't like that he was right, but Twister, random Canterlot unicorn, was not a member of the Royal Guard and therefore was not in any kind of position to be able to testify as to what happened. And if I showed up and told everyone the truth about what had happened... not only would they not believe me, but Blueblood was right that they'd all promptly decide the whole thing was my fault and exonerate Anon. It didn't help that Ember and Starflame knew I was the one who'd sent them here after Anon; dragons don't have any more positive opinion of me than ponies do. They'd find it very, very easy to draw the conclusion that I sent them here just to cause random chaos and suffering for my enemy.

Which, to be completely fair, is the reason I sent them here, so it's not that they'd be unjustified. But just because I have no particular interest in justice being done unless it helps my agenda doesn't mean that in this case, justice isn't genuinely on my side! Luna made it sound as if the dragon kept viciously attacking Anon, without pointing out that once Anon had her down on the ground without her wings, there wouldn't have been much she could have done if he'd gone back up on Luna's back to go after Dainn. It was his choice to keep hacking at her until she was dead.

In order to stop focusing on the various lies and slanders Luna was spouting (that she actually believed, thus why she was able to say them under a truth-telling spell), I took a break to head to the little colt's room, where I manufactured a headset and took a listen to the goings-on in Ponyville.

The Great and Powerful Mistress of Deception had summoned a completely fake ursa minor and had it doing her "bidding", terrorizing ponies and threatening to destroy their homes. I gathered that she'd gotten it to destroy the water tower, somehow; later on I found out she'd done it by planting explosives invisibly, before I'd even asked her to come on this mission, and set them off when her illusory ursa took a swipe at it. So Trixie had apparently been thinking about how to get this Ponyville project under way and get Twilight's attention for some time, not that this surprised me, but I'm always pleased to see a minion taking initiative.

Rainbow Dash had already arrived on the scene and been defeated; I could hear her abrasive voice shouting various insults, and Trixie retorting that she'd take Rainbow Dash's voice from her if it weren't so much fun to hear how angrily impotent she was to do anything to stop Trixie. They didn't conveniently explain verbally exactly how Trixie had gotten Rainbow Dash; I found out later it was with a net, levitating and bespelled to be invisible. As I listened, Applejack showed up. The girls had plainly forgotten everything Twilight learned from Ogres and Oubliettes about not splitting the party, since Anon had shown up. It's rather boring to listen to combat from a distance, so I pulled up a screen and teleported an eye into the area to watch the battle. It didn't last very long; Applejack's a talented combatant (I should know, after she and Rainbow Dash broke half the bones in my body), but she was no match for Trixie's illusions. Being a straightforward sort of gal, she went straight for roping Trixie, and managed to lasso an illusion... shortly after which, the real Trixie tied her up with her own rope. I think I've mentioned before that fights between earth ponies and unicorns rarely end well for the earth ponies anyway, which is exactly why Twilight shouldn't have allowed any of her party to gallop ahead.

I checked up quickly on the other four. They were a good ten minutes behind. Pinkie Pie probably could have left the others in the dust, but of course the party pony knows better than to break up the party, so she was staying with Twilight, Rarity and Fluttershy, none of whom were in nearly as good shape as Rainbow and the two earth ponies. Since I didn't feel like sitting in the bathroom waiting for them for the next ten minutes, I returned to court, but kept my eye hovering, recording so that I'd be able to watch the whole show once I was bored with court again.

Blueblood filled me in. As soon as I'd left, the subject of my possible involvement had been dropped. Did Anon's power know I was here, even if he himself didn't? Had that been an attempt from Writer Anon, as I'd begun to think about whatever intelligence might lie behind his power, to force me into showing myself and allowing Anon to get in a big dramatic battle against me, or to have every pony and dragon in the room beg his forgiveness as they realized that I, in my absolute Eeeevil, had framed Anon for the heinous crime that he'd actually committed? (Clever of me, framing a guilty human. A lot harder to prove it's a frame that way, after all.) The subject had since turned to Anon and how wonderful he was, and Celestia was in the process of delivering a speech as Anon's character witness.

Wait. I realized then that this court made absolutely no sense. Normally, Celestia judges court cases that are brought before her, as the highest authority in the land. Since Luna's return she's occasionally recused herself and allowed her sister to do it. But if Luna was a witness and Celestia was a character defense, who was actually judging this thing? I was delighted, though also trepidacious. The idea of a completely chaotic court with no judge appealed to me, as you might imagine, but on the second hoof, following no rules seemed more the hallmark of Anon and his total ignorance being imposed on reality than something my foes would have adopted on the grounds that chaos is freedom.

Celestia had apparently just started to go on about how great Anon was. "...friendship report telling me of this being of a new, never-before-seen species, I admit I had misgivings. Particularly since he was from another world, where they don't have magic. I didn't know how a being without magic could possibly get along in our world, and whether a being from a completely different world could possibly understand Harmony. I worried for my ponies, but I trusted in Twilight and her friends. But then came Cadance's wedding.

"I was completely deceived by Chrysalis. I saw her cruel and uncharacteristic behavior, but I couldn't recognize it for what it was. I thought she was simply stressed; many a bride has been known to behave in an uncharacteristic way during her wedding preparations." She smiled wryly. "Only Twilight and Anon could see the monster's behavior as evidence that she could not be the real Cadance." According to the cartoon in the other world, Twilight hadn't guessed Cadance wasn't really Cadance; she'd just decided that Cadance had become a horrible person who didn't deserve her brother since the time that Cadance had been her foalsitter. But since Anon had seen the cartoon, he'd have known "Cadance" was a Changeling. "I treated Twilight quite unfairly, and when Anon challenged me on the subject... I admit, I did not behave as the fair and just ruler I have always tried to be. I was angry at Twilight for her defiance and what I saw as her cruelty to the one I thought was Cadance. And when a magicless mortal of a lowly species I'd never before seen persisted in challenging me..." She lowered her head. "I'm ashamed to remember this, let alone to relay it to this court, but I must be honest. I had him thrown in the dungeons." Oh, if only she'd left him there.

"Before that time, Anon was merely a magicless friend of my student and her friends, from another world. Unusual, certainly, but I had no idea what destiny had planned for him. While Anon was in the catacombs below the Palace, he found the Element of Protection, and used it to free Cadance, and Twilight after Chrysalis imprisoned her there. We all recall how I was ignominiously defeated by Chrysalis – a fitting lesson for my hubris in not listening to either Twilight or Anon and being completely deceived by Chrysalis." I had never heard Celestia publicly admit that something bad that happened to her was "a fitting lesson". And considering how often I dressed her up in tights, made her jump out of cakes, put clown makeup on her, covered her with silly string, and got her to belly dance for my entertainment in exchange for my not doing something I probably wouldn't have done anyway... if Celestia was going to learn any lessons in the hubris of underestimating an opponent, that would have been the time. "If it hadn't been for Anon rescuing Cadance and Twilight, all would have been lost. They freed us all, and Anon used the Element of Protection for the first time, to defeat the vast hordes of the Changeling army and save Canterlot."

This was interesting, at least. I hadn't known any of the details of where the Element of Protection (gah, I still want to wash my mouth out with turpentine every time I say that) came from or how Anon acquired it. This did confirm for me that the power that had rewritten reality definitely came from Anon, not from his stupid pseudo-Element, since I'd felt the changes building for a week before they came to a head, and he hadn't gotten the Element until the last day of that – but it was also possible that the Element amplified his powers and allowed him to finalize his changes. The greatest burst of chaos had come the day of the wedding, and while the invasion itself was plenty chaotic... my research suggests that it might have been specifically that day that changes like "Equestrians herd" had been made. Impossible to tell when it was that all the stallions turned into mares, since none of them remember what they were or that they changed, even if their gut feeling tells them something's wrong.

That was an exciting thought, actually. What if Anon hadn't been strong enough to change all of Equestria just by entering it? What if he'd had to come here, and maybe build up magical power, maybe start setting up a really complex spell with enormous energy requirements that took days for his power to build for him, until the day it made the Element of Protection and then that thing catalyzed all the changes into happening at once? That would explain what I'd felt. It also said, once again, that Anon had limits. That if he tried to set up a world-changing spell like that again, I'd feel it before it happened, so he couldn't possibly do it to me without warning and suck me into his new reality. I mean, I don't know what I'd do to disrupt it if he did start doing such a thing, and if I'm not locked in stone I doubt very much I'd be immune to the change once it hit, but at least I'd have some warning to do something.

"Once the Changelings were defeated, Anon defended Twilight to me, pointing out how very foolish I had been in dismissing my own student's perceptions. Her friends could be forgiven for thinking Twilight was simply jealous of her brother's fiancée, but I knew better – I knew how Twilight had loved Cadance, as a child. Anon showed me my arrogance and shamed me – despite my power both as a ruler and an alicorn, despite the fact that I had already misused that power to throw him in the dungeons, and for all he knew I might strike him down for his words. I heard him, and I saw myself in his words as someone I never wanted to be – someone self-centered, cruel, too in love with their own power to remember that they are merely a pony and can make mistakes like any other." She lowered her head. "I wept. I had lost my sister for a thousand years to this sort of arrogance, and I came so close to repeating the same mistake, and losing my student, my niece and possibly even my kingdom. If Anon hadn't shown me what I was becoming, I don't know what would have happened."

I did. Nothing terrible. Twilight would have forgiven her for being hoodwinked by Chrysalis and life would have gone on. Celestia's self-flagellation over what had been a couple of small mistakes while under the influence of foreign magic – dismissing Twilight's claims because the Element of Deception had left her absolutely certain that Chrysalis was her beloved niece Cadance, and throwing Anon in prison for lèse-majesté, which, given that the nation he comes from in his world is pretty aggressive about refusing to acknowledge that royalty deserve any kind of respect for being royalty, had probably involved a fairly egregious level of disrespect by the standards of our world – was completely out of proportion. The fact that Anon made her cry by criticizing her behavior made me want to slap him. (I mean, I usually want to slap Anon, or worse, but I really really really wanted to slap him.) I got madder and madder just thinking about it. I disrespect Celestia, tell her she's being an idiot, treat her like she's no better than any other pony in general and mock her for her personal failings, and she turns me to stone. Anon does it, and she cries and begs for his forgiveness.

She went on and on talking about how Anon's purity of heart and his desire to protect Twilight and his other friends had moved her and his critique of her behavior had held up a mirror and she'd flinched at the sight and blah blah blah and I wanted to vomit, scream, or maybe set the entire courtroom on fire. Not like fire fire, more like transport fire that would transport them all to the bottom of the sea and turn them into fish, or seaponies, or something. Except for Anon, who could stay human after the transport. I was this close to snapping my hoof (yes, I can actually do that) and doing... I'm not sure what, but nopony (or human) in the room would have liked it. Blueblood hissed at me. "Control yourself!"

Below me, Celestia was continuing to wax on and on about how horrible she'd been and how noble Anon had been for opening her eyes to her own mistakes. Oh, if I had only known that the way to win back Celestia's heart was just to deliver her a "The Reason You Suck" speech after she'd just suffered a humiliating defeat, I'd have her wrapped around my finger by now! "How can I possibly stand here and listen to this garbage?" I hissed back at him. "If Celestia didn't want to go for a swim in a sea of chaos, maybe she should have thought of that before fawning all over that guy like this!"

I raised a hoof to snap it, take back my true form, and do something humiliating to everypony. And especially to Anon. So Blueblood bit my mane directly behind my head and dragged me out of the courtroom with his mouth, while I flailed in shock and yelled "Ow" and "Let go" and things like that but didn't actually turn him into a turnip for some reason.

As soon as he had me out of the room, he let me go. "What were you thinking?" he snapped at me.

"What were you thinking? I'm the Lord of Chaos! How dare you treat me like this!" I snarled at him.

"I dare because we are allies against this creature and you're plainly losing your mind! Look at your eyes!"

He then produced a mirror from a pocket dimension. The pocket dimension spell is very, very sophisticated and challenging for a harmonic magic user; Chaos makes it very, very easy, but I knew how tough it was for unicorns to pull it off. Twilight can't do a pocket dimension, judging from her reaction whenever Pinkie pulls anything out of one of her own. My opinion of Blueblood's magical skills went up, grudgingly. Though it didn't at all surprise me that if he did have the chops to master a seriously complicated and potentially dangerous spell that requires a fair degree of power, he'd waste it on carrying around a pocket mirror.

My eyes were red on yellow. For a moment I admired their beauty in the mirror, and how their unique coloring and the perfect asymmetry of my pupils offset my boring fake pony visage so well. And then I remembered that I was trying to look like a boring, normal pony, and boring, normal ponies do not have lovely eyes like mine. Which was why, when I had come here as Twister, they had been normal, boring pony eyes.

"Oh," I said.

"Yes, oh. What is the matter with you?"

As any good mage knows, eyes are the windows to the soul, and to one's magic. They're the hardest part of the body to use magic to disguise. Even Chrysalis fails to hide her green magical aura in them, sometimes. I'm usually more than capable of taking a form and keeping it when I want to go in disguise. The fact that my eyes had reverted to my true self meant that Blueblood was right. I'd lost control. Somehow.

I blinked, and reverted them to the disguised form. "What happened in there?"

"Why are you asking me? Surely you'd have more insight."

"I was so angry." I took a deep breath. "Everything she was saying just made me want to turn every single one of Anon's bones into baby powder and then freshen my tushie with it."

Blueblood winced. "Your crudity and uncouth nature notwithstanding... I was enraged as well. My noble aunt, the immortal princess of the sun, reduced to tears because some disrespectful ruffian attacked her when she was vulnerable! But no matter how angry you might be, you cannot reveal yourself or Anon will almost certainly go free! Do you want that?"

As we spoke, I was calming down. "No, of course not." It was beginning to become obvious what had almost happened. "It's his power. It makes me so angry at him, I want to attack him, so badly I forget why I can't afford to do that."

Blueblood raised an eyebrow. "So when you told me that the Element of Arrogance might protect me against Anon even when his power proves too much for you to resist... that was the truth?"

"I don't always lie, Blueblood. Just when it's funny. Yes, you have greater resistance to Anon right now than I do. Of course that might have something to do with the fact that he sees you as having a bit part in his epic saga, whereas I'm the main villain, so the focus of his powers is on me." I took a deep breath. "Much as I really, really want to see Anon go down in flames, or at least get a spanking, I think the evidence suggests that I don't dare stay here."

"Yes, it does seem as if you're likely doomed if you remain," Blueblood said. "Since the moment you reveal yourself, you exonerate him."

"And I can't have that." I sighed. "I'm going to have to leave it to you. Here, have an earring." I gave him an earring with a tiny ear-shaped pendant, just like I'd given Trixie, so I would be able to listen in on the trial, at least.

Blueblood scowled. "I would never of my own will wear something so repulsive. An ear? What couture nightmare is this?"

"Oh, you're so picky." I turned my ear into a jewel. It was still shaped like an ear, but now it was a glittering diamond in the shape of my ear. Blueblood was mollified.

"That's better. Still hardly what I would have chosen, but no longer in such terrible taste that it would harm my reputation." He tossed his head artfully, letting the motion place his mane just so. This was a pony whose vanity managed to put Rarity's to shame, after all.

"Well, I'll be off, then. Time to check up on Sparkle Fun Pony and pals and see how they're doing with Trixie."

"I'm sure that charlatan needs all the help she can get," Blueblood snarked.

I teleported back to the Grotto and used the Panauricon to check up on Trixie. I didn't want it to be immediately obvious that I was supporting her; they knew that Gilda was allied with me, but if Anon had seen the same episodes I had, he might well believe that Trixie had nothing to do with me, as long as she didn't give the game away.

In the original timeline, Trixie had rather handily defeated Twilight and her friends and taken over Ponyville, but she'd been amplified by the Alicorn Amulet. After defeating a few of Twilight's friends, she'd forced Twilight to agree to a duel. She'd performed a spell that involved blatant violations of harmony – altering the apparent age of a pony – in order to prove to Twilight that she was the "highest level unicorn". Twilight, being a law-abiding citizen who'd agreed to the terms of the duel, had fled Ponyville, leaving it to her nemesis, until her friends had helped her figure out how to trick Trixie. It hadn't been Twilight's finest moment in the original timeline, is what I'm saying.

In this timeline, Trixie didn't have the kind of firepower the Alicorn Amulet had given her – but she hadn't needed it, either. Because she'd already defeated Rainbow Dash and Applejack and was holding them hostage, she got Twilight to agree to a duel immediately... and then used the Element of Deception to fake an age spell, turning a sycophantic colt who'd been one of the two responsible for getting a real ursa minor chasing after her the last time into an apparent infant. Then for good measure she'd thrown in a gender-changing spell, making the other one of the two colts appear to be female. And then, just to make things particularly obnoxious, she'd turned Rarity into a cat. All three are pretty enormous violations of harmony; changing a pony's gender only works if the pony's soul or whatever you call it is already out of harmony with their body, the way that Cheese Louise's is now. Changing a pony's age is impossible for ponies to do, actually; Chaos can do it, and there are potions that can be used to de-age a pony, but straight-up unicorn magic simply cannot do it. And swapping a pony's species is hard. For unicorns, anyway. It has to do with the difficulty of displacing the magic or converting it to something else. There are spells that can do it, but you generally need to be an alicorn to pull them off, and there are magical artifacts, but neither Trixie nor Twilight had any of those.

So this appeared to be an overwhelming show of force, leading Twilight to run off with her tail between her legs, abandoning her friends and presumably returning to Canterlot to beg for Anon's help. I couldn't have that, so I cast a spell of confusion on Twilight, causing her to run straight into the Everfree Forest. I wasn't planning to monitor the fun – much as I'd love to watch Twilight stumbling around in confusion, lost in an endless maze of trees, I had other things I needed to do. And I didn't want Twilight dead. In the old days I might have cast a confusion spell on a pony and not particularly cared if it ended up leading them straight to the belly of a timberwolf, but Twilight is rather fun to irritate, and if she died, I'd have no hope of getting Pinkie Pie to join me (or that other future, the one from the other timeline, where Fluttershy actually became my friend... not that I really have much hope for that one anyway, but if there's any chance I might have a friend someday, I'm not going to cut off my options.)

I put a second spell on her, tied to the first spell so it would wear off shortly after the first one did, that made her more or less invisible to predators. It would also make it hard for ponies to see her, making it unlikely that anyone would rescue her. She'd spend a day or two running around the Everfree, probably forced to eat grass and drink from streams to stay fed and hydrated, but nothing was going to try to eat her.

I had other places to be. The catacombs under Canterlot Palace had been a base of operations for Chrysalis, before she'd launched the invasion. Now that I knew that that was where the Element of Protection had been found... I needed to have a little chat with my second favorite bug queen. (Second favorite because Fantasia is objectively much hotter. Admittedly Fantasia got a lot closer to killing me than Chrysalis ever has, and the queen of Triskele Hive was much funnier than either Fantasia or Chrysalis, but in this case I gotta give it to the good-looking one. Fantasia has a different-colored horn from her body and decorates herself with jewelry and hairnets, and we all know what a sucker I am for variety in a creature's appearance.)

Chrysalis was a lot better.

My impromptu surgery, removing the parts of her carapace that had been seared by the Element of Protection, seemed to have done the trick; her carapace was regenerating as expected. She wasn't entirely recovered yet, but she was walking. When I popped in, she was being assisted in walking in what looked like some kind of rehab by a changeling that looked like an ordinary worker but had the magical resonance of a royal Changeling. The changeling in question took one look at me and bristled. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" he asked, in a voice that might have sounded kind of snarly if it hadn't been so high-pitched and kind of... well, let us say, extremely non-threatening. Not that I generally perceive changelings as threatening, ever, but some of them at least have impressive voices.

"Stand down, Thorax," Chrysalis said. "This is Discord. He's the one we owe our new home to." She didn't sound pleased to see me, merely obligated.

"But your majesty! He's an intruder!"

"Yes, and a very annoying one, but we have very little power to do anything about it. Stand down, I'll deal with him."

"Pharynx would have—"

"Pharynx is dead, and attempting to be fierce in the face of danger now changes neither your cowardice in battle nor the fact that he's dead." She looked up at me. "Discord, meet Thorax, the only changeling to survive the battle with Anon unscathed. Largely because he was hiding under a tapestry in Celestia's throne room."

I shrugged. "He who hides or runs away lives to fight another day," I said. "Your Brave and Noble warrior ethos doesn't impress me much." I patted the changeling, who was growling at me and sounded exactly like an adorable puppy if an adorable puppy was a bug pony, on the head. "So you ran and hid from Anon! Excellent choice. I find I spend a lot of time doing that myself nowadays."

"It wasn't right," Thorax whined. "He was killing my hivemates! He murdered my brother! I should have fought back!"

"Yes, and then you'd be dead too, with none of that pesky survivor's guilt to worry about," I said. "Clearly a much better choice."

Chrysalis sighed deeply. "I should never have brought you into the battle in the first place," she said. "You've never had the temperament for it. You make a far better medic than you ever did a warrior."

"Oh! A Changeling medic? This is new! Since when have you had medics?"

"Since nearly every changeling in fighting form in my entire hive was either killed or gravely injured," Chrysalis said. "Since you were kind enough to transport us here, Thorax has been going out into the Crystal Empire in the guise of a medical student and bringing back medical knowledge, which is almost more important than gathering love is, right now." She glared at me. "Seeing as how someone thought it was a good idea to put another hive into this territory, forcing us to try to recover our former strength as quickly as possible before Forgotten Sky realizes we're also here."

I put two talons to my lips. "Oopsie. My bad!"

"Why did you think that was a good idea?" Chrysalis snapped at me. "If they realize our presence, they'll try to absorb our hive! With our numbers so low, we'd be hard put to defend ourselves."

"Remind me where that is my problem?" I asked. "I never promised you a rose garden, just a chance at survival. But! I miiiight possibly consider evening up your odds some... if I get some answers."

"Oh, of course, I have nothing better to do than answer your questions," Chrysalis said. Sarcastically, in case you didn't get that.

"Clearly you don't," I said. "What were you doing before I arrived to brighten up your day? Walking around and around in circles? My, that seems exciting."

"It helps her get better!" Thorax said hotly, defending what was probably a treatment he'd come up with, if he was the closest thing to a medic the Changelings had. "Yes, it's boring, but it exercises the muscles and gets the magic flowing through the body to promote healing, and –"

I zippered his mouth shut. "Yes, yes, yes, I'm familiar with pony medical science, such as it is," I said. "Now, the grownups are talking, so why don't you run along and play?"

"You're dismissed, Thorax. Come back when this buffoon has gotten bored with annoying me and has left us," Chrysalis said.

"Get bored with you? Oh, how could you imagine such a thing, Chryssy? You're such a delight! Between the sarcasm, the misplaced pride, the noble attempts to deflect my attention away from your changelings... although, I will admit, the queen of Forgotten Sky grovels much more nicely than you do, plus, I'm sorry to say, she's a lot hotter. I mean, I know you changelings can look like anything you want to look like, but au naturel, she looks exotic and you look like you've just risen up out of a swamp. Have you ever considered brushing your mane? It would do wonders for your overall appearance!"

Her near-death experience hadn't done any damage to Chrysalis' ability to roll her eyes dramatically. "Ask me your questions and then leave. I have things to do."

"Yes, walking around and around in circles! Sounds quite exciting." I yawned ostentatiously, leaning back against the air, which was very comfy.

"I'm sure nothing compares to your whirlwind daily itinerary of being the most incredibly irritating creature in existence, but we mere mortals must make do with what we have," she snapped, but her sarcasm fell a little flat because in fact nothing about her existence could possibly compare to mine. I mean, even with Anon breathing down my neck, my life in general is still vastly more entertaining and fun than Chrysalis'.

"Yes, yes, but I'm not here to talk about how much more wonderful it is to be me than to be you," I said, coiling myself in slow circles above her head. "I need details about Anon. Apparently, Celestia threw him in the dungeons for questioning you, when you were Cadance?"

"Not for questioning me. For questioning her. Twilight questioned me; Anon insisted that Celestia was a fool and making a terrible mistake by not taking Twilight's words to heart."

"Did he tell Celestia that you were a Changeling?"

"No. How could he have known that?"

The memory of the cartoon's existence grounded me; I teleported to a bipedal posture on the ground before I quite knew what I was doing. My chaos often does that, responds to express my emotions without my consciously deciding to do so. "Oh, trust me. He knew," I said sourly.

"Then why didn't he tell Celestia?"

"Because he didn't want to miss the opportunity for blood, was my guess. But something about the timing isn't right. When you saw him before the wedding, did he have that little jeweled sword around his neck yet?"

She scowled. "What little jeweled sword?"

I created an image of Anon. After a moment, I enlarged his ears to ridiculous proportions, gave him rabbit teeth and a dullard's expression, and drew a fake mustache on the image's face. Chrysalis cleared her throat. "As entertaining as it may be to see you mocking our mutual enemy... I believe you had a question about his sword you were trying to ask?"

"Oh, yes! Right. I got a bit distracted there." I pointed at the Element of Protection around his neck. "This is the thing he killed your Changelings with, but normally, it's in this form – small, and around his neck. Did he have it, before? Because Celestia says he found it in the catacombs, but if he didn't have it before being thrown in the dungeon, how could he have known he was going to acquire it and be able to attack you?"

"I don't know," Chrysalis said, exasperated. "But no, he definitely did not have anything like that, that I could see. And I have a very good eye for accoutrements like that. All Changelings must; wearing the wrong necklace or earring can give an entire impersonation away."

"And did any of your Changelings encounter him in the catacombs?"

"No. We had pulled out by the time Celestia sent him to the dungeons; I had Changelings emplaced all over the palace and all throughout the city. We weren't occupying the catacombs anymore; none of us knew anything about him until he re-surfaced and started killing us."

"And the entire time you were occupying the catacombs under Canterlot Palace... did any of you ever see anything like the Element of Protection? Even in a shapeless crystal form, or as an inert rock?"

She shrugged. "There are many, many inert rocks under Canterlot Palace. I saw nothing special. We did find considerable evidence of Diamond Dog mining, but one expects that in any underground tunnel network in Equestria, outside of the Badlands or any area occupied by a dragon."

That probably wasn't significant; Celestia might well have hired Diamond Dogs to dig out a foundation for her palace, when she had the place built after Luna's little vacation started. Diamond Dogs should have stripped the place of any gems, though, which meant either the Element of Protection had been hiding under the appearance of a mere rock, the way the true Elements of Harmony had after Celestia had denatured them, or it had ended up there after all the Diamond Dogs were gone. Or, possibly, that Anon had had it all along and just hadn't been wearing it where Chryssie could see.

"And you don't know where Anon was when he found this thing?"

She sat down on the ground, obviously weary. "It's hard for me to remember... the actual battle, I will never forget. The slaughter. So much Changeling blood... so little I could do..." She lowered her head. "But the other events of that day have largely been blotted by the horror of that battle. I think... I used a scrying mirror to appear to Twilight and Anon – I meant for it to be Twilight, to taunt her, after I'd had her taken prisoner, but Anon had joined her. I... don't think he had it then. I didn't see it. But I... didn't consider him very important, or dangerous, so I didn't pay very much attention to him."

"Not your finest moment."

"As if you did any better when you first encountered him."

"I didn't end up carved to bits." In the first encounter, anyway.

"So he found it sometime after you indulged in a bit of villainous taunting, but before he resurfaced with Twilight and Cadance."

"He didn't appear at first. It was originally Twilight and Cadance. I revealed myself, and showed Cadance how much Shining Armor was under my control. I fought Celestia, and won. My Changelings took the field, and battled against Twilight and her minions." I chuckled a bit. Twilight would absolutely hate hearing her friends referred to as her "minions". Truth hurts, doesn't it? "And then Anon appeared with that sword. He shouted something about protecting his friends, and then... and then we began to die."

So he might have been with Twilight and Cadance when he found it – in which case, they'd probably remember where, and I could possibly trick one of them into telling me – or, they took the fast road to the surface via Cadance's wings, as they had in the cartoon, but Cadance might have been too weak to carry both Twilight and a human. If that was the case... they'd have left Anon behind to find his own way out, because he didn't have any weapons that could fight the Changelings and stopping the wedding with their magic would have been foremost in the mares' thoughts. And while he was down there alone, Anon found the Element.

I didn't know what difference it made, or why it mattered to me so much to reconstruct how Anon found the thing, and where. My intuition was telling me it could be significant, and I generally listen to my intuition in matters like this. Chaos prefers hunches to careful deductive reasoning.

Well. I was already here in the Crystal Empire, and I had other reasons for being here as well. Maybe dropping in on Cadance would be a fun thing to do!

But I had other errands here to take care of first.

"Well. I might have a present for you, if things go well, and if you're a good little bug and take your vitamins and do your exercises like your boy Thorazine tells you to."

"It's Thorax."

"You should really cover your mouth when you cough. I don't want to breathe in your nasty germs." I made a face and turned myself green and ill-looking.

She ignored me. "What do you mean by a present?"

"Well. You did so spectacularly poorly with the Element of Deception, perhaps I'm a fool for even considering this... but I might, just possibly, have a different Element to share with you, if you'd like."

Her eyes went wide. "Is that so? Which one? How many are there?"

"None of your beeswax, yet." I picked up a glob of changeling goo and flung it at the wall. "First, I've got a little trip to the Crystal Palace to find something I misplaced a long time ago. And then, if I find it... we'll talk."

"I'll be holding my breath," she said dryly.

"Oh, don't do that. Blue is absolutely not your color. It would clash so badly with your greens! You can wait on tippy-hooves if you'd like, though."

And with that, I left her.

So this is going to be loads of fun, I can just tell.

Back home on the ranch, Trixie's still ruling Ponyville with an iron hoof, Anon's still stuck in Canterlot under guard, Twilight's still wandering around in the Everfree, and Spike is stuck in Ponyville, believing that Trixie has a force field around the town that prevents him from sending messages to Celestia. She really doesn't have a force field, it's all an illusion. She made him fire his flame at empty air rather than the letter he'd written, and then made him think he needed to belch, and when he did, there was the letter he'd never sent in the first place, looking like it had bounced back. I'm very happy with my minion; she's coming up with all kinds of creative applications for Deception that even I might not have thought of.

I'm glad she's managing to keep things in a holding pattern for now... because I have to challenge Sombra for my Element of Hatred. Sure, he's dead, but Sombra was a sufficiently crafty and talented unicorn that I'm not sure that's going to stop him from giving me a hard time. On the other hand, it can't possibly be as bad as the caribou were, right?

After I'm done with that, then I guess I'll drop in on Cadance and try to get some more intelligence on where Anon picked up his crystal shard of stupid. And if I can get all of that done this evening, then tomorrow it's back to Canterlot to watch more of the show! From a scrying window this time, so Anon's magic can't get me to do something idiotic. So much to do! Dear me. A pony may work from sun to sun, but a draconequus' work is never done.

"Mana a mana" is a parody of "mano a mano", a Spanish phrase that means "hand to hand" but is often mistranslated as "man to man".